For now, the 2020 NFL season is scheduled to start on the originally intended date. This despite what will be a summer full of questions as the coronavirus pandemic complicates the NFL’s plan to start and play out the 2020 season in a normal fashion.
The 2020 NFL schedule was released May 7 as a symbol of the league’s optimism regarding the upcoming season. If all goes as the NFL hopes, the Super Bowl-champion Chiefs will host the Texans in the season-opener on Thursday, Sept. 10. Then a complete, 17-week season will play out before the playoffs and Super Bowl 55 in Tampa Bay on Feb. 7.
The NFL’s opening weekend is scheduled to continue Sept. 13 with the season’s first full Sunday of games. As has become tradition, the first week of the 2020 season will conclude with a “Monday Night Football” doubleheader on ESPN — Steelers at Giants, then Titans at Broncos.
That’s the plan, but multiple reports have suggested the NFL will be prepared with contingency plans if and when it needs to push back the start of the 2020 season. Regardless of when the season actually begins, the NFL appears committed to playing a full, 16 game season and crowning a Super Bowl champion in February.
When does the NFL season start in 2020?
- Date: Thursday, Sept. 10
- Matchup: Texans at Chiefs (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC)
The reigning Super Bowl champion has hosted the NFL season-opener in 14 of the last 16 years. (Last season, the NFL opened its 100th season with a classic, Packers-Bears matchup; and in 2013, the Ravens played the season-opener on the road due to a scheduling conflict.) As expected, the Chiefs will make it 15 of the last 17 years, and they’ll host the team they defeated in the divisional round of last season’s playoffs.
The NFL didn’t have many intriguing options for its season-opener in 2020 based on Kansas City’s home schedule. Houston seems like a relatively easy choice now that Tom Brady is no longer in New England. Outside of their division, the Chiefs also play Jets, Panthers and Falcons at home this season.
None of those teams offer a showcase-worthy star like Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
NFL Week 1 schedule, matchups, dates
As of now, the NFL Week 1 schedule is set to play out on time even though coronavirus-related issues could impact the timing of the start of the season (more on those below).
Including the aforementioned Thursday night season-opener, here is the complete schedule for the NFL’s opening weekend in 2020.
|Game||Kickoff time||TV channel|
|Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs||8:20 p.m. ET||NBC|
|Game||Kickoff time||TV channel|
|Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens||1 p.m. ET||CBS|
|New York Jets at Buffalo Bills||1 p.m. ET||CBS|
|Las Vegas Raiders at Carolina Panthers||1 p.m. ET||CBS|
|Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars||1 p.m. ET||CBS|
|Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots||1 p.m. ET||CBS|
|Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|Los Angeles Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals||4:05 p.m. ET||CBS|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints||4:25 p.m. ET||FOX|
|Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers||4:25 p.m. ET||FOX|
|Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams||8:20 p.m. ET||NBC|
|Game||Kickoff time||TV channel|
|Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants||7:15 p.m. ET||ESPN|
|Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos||10:10 p.m. ET||ESPN|
For now, the NFL plans to start its season as scheduled, with the 2020 season-opener on Thursday, Sept. 10, a complete, 17-week regular season and a full slate of playoff games before Super Bowl 55 in Tampa Bay on Sunday, Feb. 7. With the exception of international games in London and Mexico City, which will not be played in 2020, the NFL appears committed to sticking with its normal schedule until somebody says it’s impossible.
Of course, the NFL can’t be sure about how the effects of the coronavirus pandemic will evolve in months, weeks or even days. Which is why multiple potential contingency plans are being considered.
“I’m very confident of a 16-game season with a Super Bowl in February,” sports business consultant Marc Ganis told NBC Sports’ Peter King, adding an important caveat. “I didn’t say I was confident in 16 games with a bye, or what week in February the Super Bowl would be, or if every team will play eight games in their home stadiums, or whether there will be fans at every game.
“There’s more information that’s needed before we have these answers. Teams are just going to have be flexible.”
Others have offered similar suggestions that a delayed start to the season is on the table. PFT reported a delay of “a few weeks” could be necessary “in order to get to the point where the governors of all states with NFL stadiums will agree to opening the doors and letting anyone who chooses to attend show up.”
Sports Business Daily reports the NFL could start the season October 15 and still have teams play full, 16-game slates. The report also suggests the NFL could eliminate not only bye weeks during the season, but also the bye week between conference championships and the Super Bowl. It would then use those bye weeks to push back the start of the season, and the Super Bowl would be played Feb. 28.
King believes “it’s possible the schedule gets pushed back a week or four, and maybe the byes eliminated. … It’s also possible the league could choose to start four weeks late and simply kick off the schedule with the Week 5 games, beginning Oct. 8, (then) take Weeks 1-4 and put them on the last four weekends in January.
“That would keep the bye week intact, which is likely important because the players union would fight to keep the in-season week off in place. In that scenario, playoffs would begin Feb. 6 with the Super Bowl on Feb. 28.”
Another wild card is the unknown status of the college football season. For reasons related to the draft, among other ties between college and pro football, the NFL hopes the college football season can play out just like it hopes the pro season can. But in the event the college season is canceled or moved to later dates, the NFL reportedly is “discussing the possibility” of playing games on Saturdays.
As a source explained to PFT, “that most likely would entail making specific games available on Saturdays exclusively via Amazon Prime or ESPN+, with streaming platforms paying a premium for content that would entice zealous NFL fans to in turn pay the premium necessary to watch the games.
“Those games would be removed from the Fox and CBS Sunday inventory, with the networks receiving a rebate and with the NFL expecting to make back that cash and more via the next wave of broadcast deals.”
If these reported contingency plans aren’t a clear enough indicator of the NFL’s caution when it comes to the viability and timing of the 2020 season, its recently communicated ticket refund plan is a solid reinforcement.
The Associated Press obtained a memo NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent to all 32 teams. It establishes a policy for refunds should games in 2020 be canceled or played without fans in attendance.
“All clubs will have in place a policy under which, if a game is canceled, or is played under conditions that prohibit fans from attending, anyone purchasing a ticket directly from the club (i.e., season tickets, group sales and/or partial season plans) will have the option of either receiving a full refund or applying the amount paid toward a future ticket purchase directly from the club.”
The AP also reported secondary ticket distributors Ticketmaster and SeatGeek have pledged to the NFL to make refunds available in full for tickets purchased within 30 days of cancellation. StubHub will comply with the policy only where required by state law.